Long ago, there was AM radio, which was the medium to broadcast news and information, as well as entertain millions of people. This was a reliable technology, but as technology advanced, FM was used. This newer medium is still used today because of the higher fidelity, higher bandwidth that it can deliver to people. People mostly enjoy FM for music, but when there is a large event, broadcasters unite and share information to their listeners. The same scenario is happening to social media.
Recently, Twitter, a free micro-blogging service for users to share short updates with their friends (and Internet users), was literally unusable during the time of the Apple Macworld 2008 Keynote. I know Apple is an popular topic among geeks and the computer industry around the world, but I don’t think it merits bringing Twitter to it knees. Thousands of users expecting to receive Twitter updates (think: broadcasts), didn’t receive them. Twitter has evolved from a “cool thing” to a public utility, but unfortunately didn’t scale to those needs.
I see a lot of social media applications evolving this way. What starts out as a cool thing, gets used by many users, ultimately serving a purpose to communicate to a lot of users. Look at the first blog, look at the first social news Web site, look even at Google.
As social media application are used everyday by even more people, I imagine there will be a time when major events will break on the Internet before they do in traditional media. I envision users providing their own accounts of events via SMS or even short video clips uploaded. In many cases, these are the true reporters — not just journalists who focus on the delivery and the “way” things are reported. Conversely, instead of press conferences from state officials, I see them posting important news on a blog, and that information being delivered to constituents. This is using social media as a public utility.
My only advice to growing social media Web sites would be this:
Design your products to scale,
not just to your existing users,
but to new [uninitiated] users.
Make it easy to republish and syndicate
information to other sources.
Scalability is often talked about, but rarely discussed by those who did manage to do it with their products and services. Examples of this would include MySpace, Facebook, AOL, LiveJournal, WordPress among several others. On the contrary, Yahoo shares their techniques in making really fast Web applications that have survived catastrophic events on their Developer Network which is aimed to share the best practices for speeding up Web sites.
Like with radio and television, social media will become the next public utility that will be consumed much quicker and directly than traditional media. Are you ready?